Sunday, September 21, 2014

Employer not obligated to extend grievance settlement to different unit

A Steelworkers Local represents a unit of production and maintenance employees at 3M's Cottage Grove, Minnesota facility. IUOE Local 70 represents a combined unit consisting of certain employees at Cottage Grove as well as employees at another 3M facility in St. Paul.  Until April of 2010 employees represented by both unions at Cottage Grove were covered by a common Attendance Control Program. After that date, 3M introduced a separate program for Local 70, though the terms were essentially the same.

In January of 2012, 3M and Local 70 settled a grievance concerning the program. Pursuant to the agreement, after a transition period employees represented by Local 70 would not be charged with an occurrence under the Attendance Control Program for sick leave absences.

In May of 2013, an employee represented by the Steelworkers was suspended for three days under the Attendance Control Program for a sick leave absence. The Steelworkers filed a grievance, asserting that it was "unfair and discriminatory" not to give grievant the same relief the employees represented by Local 70 had received. The Steelworkers claimed the circumstances were identical to those present in the grievance settled by 3M and Local 70. The parties were unable to resolve their dispute in the grievance procedure and the Union submitted the dispute to Arbitrator Thomas Gallagher for resolution.

Arbitrator Gallagher denied the grievance. He noted initially that at the time it negotiated it most recent cba the Steelworkers did not attempt to negotiate modification of the Attendance Control Plan to achieve the result it sought, even though it was aware of the IUOE settlement at that time. Noting that Steelworkers were now attempting to modify their agreement by means of a favorable award in the arbitration, the Arbitrator concluded "Contract amendment is not within the authority of a grievance arbitrator; it should occur only in the give and take of bargaining." The arbitrator also observed that 3M had presented evidence that the nature of the workforce represented by the two unions was different, and that the Company could tolerate greater absence among the IUOE employees. He concluded:

          That difference in the need for attendance is at least sufficient to show that the issue should not be resolved by an arbitrator's determination that relevant circumstances affecting both employee groups are identical.
          Rather, the interests of the parties should be resolved in bargaining. The bargaining process is better suited than arbitration to resolution of this kind of issue -- 1) because arguments of the Union in favor of uniform treatment of both employee groups may be able to lessen the Employer's concerns about maintaining production efficiency, 2) because arguments of the Employer may persuade the Union that good attendance will enhance production sufficiently to allow economic benefits, or 3) because the parties will find some other resolution in the give and take of bargaining. 

Arbitrator Gallagher's Award can be found here.

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